‘I know it’s time’; controversial Hamilton councillor explains exit after 19 years

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Published August 19, 2022 at 8:26 pm

Citing his “declining health” and family reasons, Coun. Terry Whitehead explained why he is leaving elected politics in Hamilton.

The often-outspoken west Mountain respresentative had been publicly silent about his plans in Ward 14 for over three months. The deadline to file papers to run passed at 2 p.m. on Friday (Aug. 19). The 19-year councillor, who has been on medical leaves for about 12 of the last 20 months, and who has had his pay docked twice after integrity commissioner investigations confirmed allegations of bullying, released a statement several hours later.

“For the past 19 years of my life, I have had the humbling responsibility of representing Ward 14 (and formerly Ward 8),” Whitehead stated from the city e-mail address of Serena Samuel, the Ward 14 executive assistant. “Throughout this time, I’ve done my u-tmost to represent the concerns of residents here and across the city; to hold council and staff accountable by asking tough questions and seeking clarity on issues many would rather have swept under the rug.

“Tempting and vastly more comfortable though it would have been to keep my head down and appease the loudest and most demanding voices or special interests, that’s never been who I am,” added Whitehead, whose 2018 campaign spent the most (over $27,000) on any council run in Hamilton. “It’s never been politics as usual for me. I often found myself at odds with the status quo, not making decisions to be popular on council but because I truly believed they would be the right choices for us all.

“Frankly, I could not have done this without the love and support of my family who have stood by my side through every season.

“The past couple of years however, have brought new and greater challenges than I had expected,” Whitehead added. “Family illnesses, the loss of loved ones, and my own declining health — all exacerbated by the trials we faced together during the (COVID-19) pandemic. The toll it took has been lasting to say the least, which is why I know it’s time for me to take a step back, and not seek re-election as your councillor this upcoming election. At this point, for myself and my loved ones there can be no other choice.”

Whitehead has told Hamilton media outlets that his medical condition has affected him cognitively. He last appeared virtually at a council meeting on June 22, the day he was docked 45 days’ day after a report by Principles Integrity determined he had bullied and harassed Ward 15 Coun. Judi Partridge, human resources executive director Lora Fontana and city clerk Andrea Holland. One of the incidents was related to council discussion his first pay penalty, which was for 30 days, and imposed last November just days after he turned to work.

There was no rule barring Whitehead from participating in the discussion of sanctions against him, but at that meeting in June, Mayor Fred Eisenberger politely encouraged him not to do so. City staff have also since developed a “safety plan” intended to protect elected officials and employees from a colleague who behaves toxically.

The departure of Whitehead means the next city council in Hamilton will have seven new elected representatives out of 16. Along with a new mayor, there will be new councillors in wards 4, 5, 11, 12, 14 and 15.

The departing councillor’s statement did not mention the issues he was found to have created, or directly mention the seven candidates running for the open Ward 14 seat.

During the time he was back at meetings, Whitehead helped get part of Ward 14 included in Hamilton’s rental housing licensing pilot program, which is in areas that have a high post-secondary student population. The program is also being piloted in wards 1 and 8.

Whitehead’s statement pointed to that achievement, along with the creation of the Chedoke Twin Pad Arena and the design and construction of William Connell Park.

“Ward 14, I am genuinely proud of the work we’ve accomplished together,” he said.

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